Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Bletchley Circle (live action TV series), via Netflix

The Bletchley Circle is a British historical mystery series set in the early 1950s.

I opted not to include any watch-alikes or read-alikes for this, although I should probably mention that David Leavitt's The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer was part of the reason why I was so excited to watch this. The Bletchley Park women interested me.


In Series 1, Susan, a former codebreaker at Bletchley Park, has mostly settled into a comfortable life as a mother and a wife. However, part of her can't help but look for patterns everywhere, and she's convinced she's found one in a series of murders. The problem is convincing the police that the pattern she sees exists, especially since her first tip turns out to be wrong. She enlists the help of Millie, Lucy, and Jean, other former Bletchley Park codebreakers.

Series 2 includes two different mysteries. In the first, Alice, a former colleague of Jean's at Bletchley, has confessed to a murder that Jean is convinced she didn't commit. Jean enlists Lucy and Millie's help in proving her innocence. Susan occasionally joins in, but the events that brought their previous investigation to a close frightened her very badly. She doesn't want to risk that harm might come to her, her children, or her husband. In the second mystery, Alice suspects that Millie has been kidnapped, possibly due to her involvement in the post-war black market.

I loved the premise: former Bletchley Park codebreakers using their skills and wartime contacts to solve crimes, even as they tried to deal with their problems at home (Lucy's husband was abusive, Millie had problems staying employed and making enough money to live on, and Susan's husband had no idea, due to the Official Secrets Act, that she had been more than just a secretary during the war). Series 1 was excellent. It was fun watching the women accumulate and try to make sense of data, doing the kind of work they'd thrived on during the war and that, because they were women, few people in the postwar world seemed to think they were capable of. I was at the edge of my seat, waiting to see whether they could find a pattern and find the killer. Would they be able to get the cops to believe and help them, or would they go the riskier route and try to pin down the killer themselves? And would Susan's obsession with the case ruin her marriage?

Susan's marriage was a source of great anxiety for me. Susan's husband was a bit stiff, and I hated that he didn't seem to realize that she was slowly stagnating. It was unfair of me, because he didn't know about her past and she couldn't tell him without breaking the law, but I couldn't help it. However, I softened towards him when he misunderstood a particular incident and thought that the secret Susan had been keeping from him was that she'd been trying to help Lucy run away from her abusive husband. He forgave her for not telling him everything because she'd (he thought) been trying to do something good for a friend.

It was painful to see Susan so wary and afraid in Series 2 – after the end of Series 1, she knew very well the kind of danger she could inadvertently expose herself and her family to, and she wanted none of it. Millie, cat-like, seemed to have landed on her feet again, managing to find an interesting if somewhat strange (to her sensibilities as a wartime codebreaker) job as a translator for German businessmen. I also loved that Lucy was thriving now that she no longer lived with her husband. Pretty much the only person whose life didn't seem to have changed in the slightest was Jean. I kind of wish that the show had included a little bit of what her life was like outside of her work at the library and her occasional collaborations with the former Bletchley women. She seemed to have maintained an awesome number of wartime contacts.

I really wanted Susan to stay with the group. Although I liked the developments that led to her leaving, the second mystery in Series 2 felt incomplete without her. Alice was nice and had her own personal issues (trying to find a job despite the negative reputation that the trial gave her, so that she could afford to pay for her daughter's teacher training), but it wasn't the same. Unfortunately, I don't think that there was a historically accurate way for four women of limited (or no) means to keep in touch with Susan while she was in another country.

The second mystery of Series 2 had more wrong with it than just the lack of Susan. In Series 1, the women were well aware that they weren't cops and that, while they might be able to find a pattern in a series of murders, they weren't really equipped to take down a killer. In the second mystery of Series 2, they took horrific risks with barely a second thought. They were very, very lucky that everything worked out perfectly and that none of them died.

When I started this show, I thought that Susan, Millie, Jean, and Lucy would end up proving their crime-solving usefulness and end up as unofficial consultants for the police. I'm a little disappointed that it didn't turn out that way and that the group crumbled so quickly. Series 1 was definitely worth watching, but Series 2 wasn't nearly as good (aside from developments between Susan and her husband). Sadly, I'm not surprised it wasn't renewed for a third series.

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